Alternatively, the seemingly higher rate of autism in children born by induction could be a statistical mirage. Bailit noted that mothers in the study who'd graduated college were one-third more likely to have children diagnosed with autism than were mothers who'd completed high school but not attended college. That's probably not because either group actually experiences higher rates of autism, but rather because kids who develop autism are more likely to receive a doctor's diagnosis if their parents are well educated. Interestingly, Bailit noted, well-educated women are also more likely to undergo induction. That alone, she suggested, could account for the link found by the Duke team.
Other researchers emphasized that inductions, while often medically necessary, should be avoided whenever they're unnecessary. For many years, so-called elective inductions were common in some hospitals. Sometimes doctors induced women before the fetus had fully matured, leading to avoidable health problems in the newborn. Medical experts and hospital leaders have cracked down on that dangerous practice in recent years, and now strongly discourage doctors and patients from electing to induce unless there's a strong medical reason to do so or the fetus is at least 39 weeks old.
Among women whose pregnancies haven't yet reached 39 weeks, said obstetrician/gynecologist Susan C. Mann of Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, "most hospitals these days since about 2011 have a hard stop on medically [unnecessary] inductions."
[Read: Signs Your Child Could Have Autism.]